When Leif Erikson dubbed the North American coast "Vinland" or "Winland" back around 1000 A.D., he may or may not have meant to call our continent a land of vines (linguists say the term might also have meant "land of meadows") — but a land of vines is what we've become.The sheer quantity and variety of good and great wine being made in America has grown exponentially in recent decades. It is now produced in all 50 states — even Hawaii, even Alaska (though admittedly the latter state's offerings are mostly made from fruits and berries, plus grape juice imported from more temperate climes) — and there are bottles worth savoring from almost every source.
Narrowing our national enological wealth down to a mere 101 wineries, then, is a daunting task each year. To help us meet the challenge, we reach out annually to experts in the field, from all over the country — sommeliers, wine writers and bloggers (including our own contributors, of course), chefs and restaurateurs, and of course the wine-savvy editors at The Daily Meal — asking them to nominate their favorite wineries (as many as ten per person) and to tell us what they like about them.
This year we invited about 60 of these professional (or passionate amateur) wine-lovers to weigh in. Some of our respondents asked to remain anonymous, but we are happy to be able to acknowledge the assistance, in devising and ranking our list, of our frequent wine contributors Roger Morris, Andrew Chalk, Gabe Sasso, Anne Montgomery, and John Tilson (of The Underground Wineletter); chef/restaurateurs Cindy Pawlcyn, Robert Del Grande, and Norman van Aken (all three of them members of The Daily Meal Council) and New York/New Orleans restaurateur Sean Josephs; David Sawyer, wine director at Brooklyn's Lilia Ristorante; writers Stacy Slinkard, Tom McNamee, and S. Irene Virbila (former restaurant critic and wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times); grocer extraordinaire and highly respected wine expert Darrell Corti (also a member of The Daily Meal Council); Steve Wallace, retired proprietor of the legendary Wally's Wine & Spirits in West Los Angeles; and Renée B. Allen, director of the Wine Institute of New England. We've also included some remarks given to us for previous editions of this list by sommeliers Dan Davis of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans and Eduardo Bolaños of the Terroni Group restaurants in Los Angeles; Daniel Johannes, corporate wine director for Daniel Boulud's Dinex Group; and wine writers Elizabeth Schneider and Keith Beavers.
Collating the nominations, we ended up with a list of more than 250 wineries, old and new, large and small, many of them nominated numerous times. We factored in our own tasting notes of recent vintages, consulted the leading wine publications and newsletters, and considered recent awards from prestigious competitions, and narrowed the choices down to 101.
In the nomination process, we asked our panel to consider not just the obvious places — California, the Pacific Northwest, Virginia, and New York state — but the entire country. The majority of our choices, 61 of the wineries listed, did turn out to be Californian; as noted, plenty of other places are doing a good job with wine, but the Golden State is still by far the largest producing state and still boasts the largest number of great wineries. The Pacific Northwest (Idaho included) is well-represented too — but you'll also find wineries from New York (both the Finger Lakes and Long Island) and Virginia, and from Maryland, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.
Among our "bests" are old-line producers that helped pioneer the mid-twentieth-century California wine revolution (Robert Mondavi, No. 64, and Heitz Cellar, No. 20); newer small producers of great promise (Sandlands, No. 54; Uvaggio, No. 92); top Pacific Northwestern standard-setters (Quilceda Creek, No. 11; The Eyrie Vineyards, No. 61); the best of New York state and Virginia (Boundary Breaks, No. 42; Barboursville Vineyards, No. 8, respectively); and, certainly, some wineries you might not have heard of, from places that might not immediately come to mind as wine producers (New Mexico's Gruet, No. 86; Colorado's Two Rivers, No. 100).
What you might notice missing are some of the most famous California "trophy wines" — the ones that would cost you $500 to $1000 or more per bottle, if you could even locate one for sale. These are absent because, for whatever reasons (and we could guess at a few of them), our panelists simply didn't vote for them. That said, some wineries on our list do command top dollar, and some are difficult to find in ordinary retail channels and go primarily to longtime mailing list customers. On the other hand, there are plenty of easily accessible wines represented, too, many of them offering excellent wine at fair prices.
Those who compare this year's ranking with last year's 101 Best might notice that 24 of our 2016 "bests" are no longer represented. That doesn't necessarily indicate any decline in quality on their part; many of them received votes again this year, but the numbers just computed a little differently this time around, leaving room for some new entries. The same is true of producers whose position moved down on the list; this doesn't mean that their wines are not as good as they were last year, only that a slightly different panel cast their votes in a slightly different way.
We're proud of the following list, and grateful to the experts who helped us compile it. We’re also excited to hear your feedback: Did your favorite American winery make the cut? Let us know which winery on our list is your favorite — or if we missed one that you love — by tweeting us @TheDailyMeal using the hashtag #101BestWineries.